Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Canvas Bag.......a short story part one.

The day began in a milky shroud of fog. The humid air was heavy with mist and the street lights looked like distant moons. David sat on the edge of his bed feeling as thick and still as the elements. It was 6 o’clock and past time for him to be up if he had any hope of being chosen from among the pack for a day of labor. His life had become a daily test of fate, hanging on the delicate whim of the fat man with the clipboard. Some days he was chosen and would spend 10 hours picking watermelons or cantaloupe. Other days he would be passed over and spend his time trying to become invisible. He would wander around the city, keeping to back streets, waiting for a break, some sort of miracle that would deliver him. 6 o’clock. He wouldn’t make it in time, so today he would wander.

The only thing that had survived the fire was his car and the collection of books that he had strewn all over the back seat. A few years ago he had sold the car to a junkyard. Now all he had were the books. They were stored in boxes under his bed, all that remained of his old life. On the days that he didn’t get picked he would grab one and take it with him as he walked the streets. After getting dressed and eating the last bagel in the pantry, he picked up Crime and Punishment and left the boarding house, turning right at the intersection directly beneath his second story window. It was miserably humid and by the time he reached the park the mist had soaked him through. Dostoyevsky was safe inside his sweatshirt. David always guarded this last vestige of his old life with great care. At the park he found a bench sheltered from the mist by a thick Ficus tree. He sat down and opened the book. He needed a cup of coffee and something to eat more substantial than a bagel, but he had only 38 cents in his pocket. One bagel would have to do.

David read of poor Raskolnikov for perhaps the fifth time. It was one of his favorites. The guilt spoke to him. As he read, he fought with his memories, the only clear one that remained from before the fire. His wife and young boy were sitting at the kitchen table while David tended to dinner on the stove. Anna had never liked the old house. The plumbing was faulty, the roof leaked, and the wiring was a mess. If she plugged in any three things at once the breaker would trip, and they would be plunged into darkness. On this night in the kitchen David had promised to have an electrician come by and look into the wiring. He had gotten busy and forgotten. Eight days later the house had burnt to the ground while he was working the night shift. Four and a half years had passed and the only mental image that remained of his wife and child was their faces at the kitchen table while he prepared jambalaya in a heavy iron skillet

David heard what sounded like a backfire from a truck and then the angry screech of tires on the slick street behind the park. Another backfire. He turned toward the noise and could see nothing through the trees. Now several loud voices and the breaking of glass and the mangling of metal. David stood and walked briskly through the dense stand of trees that formed the southern boundary of the park. As he got close he heard an even harsher screech of tires and then silence. When he reached the street he saw broken glass, and the swirling skid marks on the wet street. Hidden in some high grass three feet from where he stood, he found the canvas bag.